Building a Coalition
Many of the most important organizational behavior challenges require coordinating plans and goals
among groups. This case describes a multi-organizational effort, but the same principles of
accommodation and compromise also apply when trying to work with multiple divisions within a
single organization. You’ll create a blueprint for managing a complex development team’s progress,
steering team members away from negative conflicts and toward productive discussion. You’ll also be
asked to help create a new message for executives so they can lead effectively.
Major Topic Areas
• Group dynamics
• Maximizing team performance
• Organizational culture
• Integrative bargaining
The Woodson Foundation, a large nonprofit social service agency, is teaming up with the public school
system in Washington, D.C. to improve student outcomes. There’s ample room for improvement. The
schools have problems with truancy, low student performance, and crime. New staff quickly burns out as
their initial enthusiasm for helping students is blunted by the harsh realities they encounter in the
classroom. Turnover among new teachers is very high, and many of the best and brightest are the most
likely to leave for schools that aren’t as troubled.
The plan is to create an experimental after-school program that will combine the Woodson
Foundation’s skill in raising private money and coordinating community leaders with the educational
expertise of school staff. Ideally, the system will be financially self-sufficient, which is important because
less money is available for schools than in the past. After several months of negotiation, the leaders of the
Woodson Foundation and the school system have agreed that the best course is to develop a new agency
that will draw on resources from both organizations. The Woodson Foundation will provide logistical
support and program development and measurement staff; the school system will provide classrooms and
The first stage in bringing this new plan to fruition is the formation of an executive development team.
This team will span multiple functional areas and establish the operating plan for improving school
performance. Its cross-organizational nature means representatives from both the Woodson Foundation and
the school district must participate. The National Coalition for Parental Involvement in Education (NCPIE)
is also going to be a major partner in the program, acting as a representative for parents on behalf of the
Conflict and Agreement in the Development Team
While it would be perfect if all the groups could work together easily to improve student outcomes, there
is little doubt some substantive conflicts will arise. Each group has its own interests, and in some cases
these are directly opposed to one another.
School district representatives want to ensure the new jobs will be unionized and will operate in a way
consistent with current school board policies. They are very concerned that if Woodson assumes too
dominant a role, the school board won’t be able to control the operations of the new system. The
complexity of the school system has led to the development of a highly complex bureaucratic structure over
time, and administrators want to make sure their policies and procedures will still hold for teachers in these
programs even outside the regular school day. They also worry that jobs going into the new system will
take funding from other school district jobs.
Woodson, founded by entrepreneur Theodore Woodson around 1910, still bears the hallmarks of
its founder’s way of doing business. Woodson emphasized efficiency and experimentation in everything he
did. Many of the foundation’s charities have won awards for minimizing costs while still providing
excellent services. Their focus on using hard data to measure performance for all their initiatives is not
consistent with the school district culture.
Finally, the NCPIE is driven by a mission to increase parental control. The organization believes that
when communities are able to drive their own educational methods, students and parents are better able to
achieve success together. The organization is strongly committed to celebrating diversity along racial,
gender, ethnic, and disability status categories. Its members are most interested in the process by which
changes are made, ensuring everyone has the ability to weigh in.
Some demographic diversity issues complicate the team’s situation. Most of the students served by
the Washington, D.C., school district are African American, along with large populations of Caucasians
and Hispanics. The NCPIE makeup generally matches the demographic diversity of the areas served by the
public schools. The Woodson Foundation, based in northern Virginia, is predominantly staffed by
Caucasian professionals. There is some concern with the idea that a new group that does not understand the
demographic concerns of the community will be so involved in a major change in educational
administration. The leadership of the new program will have to be able to present an effective message for
generating enthusiasm for the program across diverse stakeholder groups.
Although the groups differ in important ways, it’s also worth considering what they have in common. All
are interested in meeting the needs of students. All would like to increase student learning. The school
system does benefit from anything that increases student test scores. And the Woodson Foundation and
NCPIE are united in their desire to see more parents engaged in the system.
Candidates for the Development Team
The development team will consist of three individuals— HR representatives from the Woodson
Foundation, the schools, and the NCPIE—who have prepared the following list of potential candidates for
Victoria Adams is the superintendent of schools for Washington, D.C. She spearheaded the initial
communication with the Woodson Foundation and has been building support among teachers and
principals. She thinks the schools and the foundation need to have larger roles than the parents and
communities. “Of course we want their involvement and support, but as the professionals, we should have
more say when it comes to making decisions and implementing programs. We don’t want to shut anyone
out, but we have to be realistic about what the parents can do.”
Duane Hardy has been a principal in the Washington area for over 15 years. He also thinks the schools
should have the most power. “We’re the ones who work with these kids every day. I’ve watched class sizes
get bigger, and scores and graduation rates go down. Yes, we need to fix this, but these outside groups can’t
understand the limitations we’re dealing with. We have the community, the politicians, the taxpayers—
everyone watching what we’re doing, everyone thinking they know what’s best. The parents, at least, have
more of a stake in this.”
“The most important thing is the kids,” says second-year teacher Ari Kaufman. He is well liked by his
students but doesn’t get along well with other faculty members. He’s seen as a “squeaky wheel.” “The
schools need change so badly. And how did they get this way? From too little outside involvement.”
Community organizer Mason Dupree doesn’t like the level of bureaucracy either. He worries that
the school’s answer to its problems is to throw more money at them. “I know these kids. I grew up in these
neighborhoods. My parents knew every single teacher I had. The schools wanted our involvement then.
Now all they want is our money. And I wouldn’t mind giving it to them if I thought it would be used
responsibly, not spent on raises for people who haven’t shown they can get the job done.”
Meredith Watson, with the Woodson Foundation, agrees the schools have become less focused on the
families. A former teacher, she left the field of education after being in the classroom for 6 years. “There is
so much waste in the system,” she complains. “Jobs are unnecessarily duplicated, change processes are
needlessly convoluted. Unless you’re an insider already, you can’t get anything done. These parents want
to be involved. They know their kids best.”
Unlike her NCPIE colleagues, Candace Sharpe thinks the schools are doing the best they can. She is
a county social worker, relatively new to the D.C. area. “Parents say they want to be involved but then
don’t follow through. We need to step it up, we need to lead the way. Lasting change doesn’t come from the
outside, it comes from the home.”
Victor Martinez has been at the Woodson Foundation for 10 years, starting as an intern straight out of
college. “It’s sometimes hard to see a situation when you’re in the thick of it,” he explains. “Nobody likes
to be told they’re doing something wrong, but sometimes it has to be said. We all know there are flaws in
the system. We can’t keep the status quo. It just isn’t cutting it.”
Strategies for the Program Team
Once the basic membership and principles for the development team have been established, the
program team would also like to develop a handbook for those who will be running the new program.
Ideally, this set of principles can help train new leaders to create an inspirational message that will facilitate
success. The actual content of the program and the nature of the message will be hammered out by the
development team, but it is still possible to generate some overriding principles for the program team in
advance of these decisions.
The Woodson Foundation, the NCPIE, and the schools have asked you to provide some information
about how to form teams effectively. They would like your response to explain what should be done each
step of the way, from the selection of appropriate team members to setting group priorities and goals,
setting deadlines, and describing effective methods for resolving conflicts that arise. After this, they’d like
you to prepare a brief set of principles for leaders of the newly established program. That means you will
have two audiences: the development team, which will receive one report on how it can effectively design
the program, and the program team, which will receive one report on how it can effectively lead the new
The following points should help you form a comprehensive message for the development team:
1. The development team will be more effective if members have some idea about how groups
and teams typically operate. Review the dominant perspectives on team formation and
performance from the chapters in the book for the committee so it can know what to expect.
2. Given the profiles of candidates for the development team, provide suggestions for who
would likely be a good group member and who might be less effective in this situation. Be sure
you are using the research on groups and teams in the textbook to defend your choices.
3. Using principles from the chapters on groups and teams, describe how you will advise the team to
manage conflict effectively.
The following points should help you form a message for the program team:
1. Leaders of the new combined organization should have a good idea of the culture of the school
district, the NCPIE, and the Woodson Foundation because they will need to manage relationships
with all three groups on an ongoing basis. How would you describe the culture of these various
stakeholder organizations? Use concepts from the chapter on organizational culture to describe
how they differ and how they are similar.
2. Consider how leaders of the new program can generate a transformational message and
encourage employee and parent trust. Using material from the chapter on leadership, describe how
you would advise leaders to accomplish these ends.
3. Given the potential for demographic fault lines in negotiating these changes, what would you
advise as a strategy for managing diversity issues for program leaders?